In attempting to give some account, however fragmentary and brief, of affairs and tendencies in England after the coming of the Normans, the figure of William the Conqueror is constantly before the mind; "the man, who even in his crimes," says* his great historian, "seems raised above the common level of our race." Typical of the courage, the high ideals, the personal distinction of that masterful duchy of Normandy, which gave him birth; in spite of his great faults, the world has learned to regard him as a man of foresight, a statesman and reformer of broad intelligence. In his time great emergencies were beginning to make themselves evident, new ideas were on the wing, a new order of things was coming in.
We have learned much of William of Normandy's history from chroniclers who naturally resented both his character and methods; the first ideas that spring to mind on the mention of his name are apparently to his discredit. The tyranny and insolence of the curfew bell, with the making of deer forests out of the common lands and private properties; the enforced substitution of a foreign language for the Anglo-Saxon speech are the first things that a child is taught, of a truly great king who did much to enlarge and enlighten the English nation, who, more than any other man, laid the foundations of that England from which we in America inherit our best qualities and instincts. Perhaps we could not get a better idea of the state of England after the Conquest than to study the reason for popular prejudice, to see exactly what it meant and what its effect was upon the English people. Prejudice must come from one of two causes: either because the subject of it hinders right and good things from taking their natural course, or because he forces truth and improvement upon those who are neither ready nor willing to accept them. In this last and not infrequent case a man is sure to be looked at with resentment and suspicion because he so deeply disturbs the peace of mind of those who are contented to remain as they are.
There is one point which must be borne in mind in studying the condition of English society in this latter part of the eleventh century. Judged by our present standards it was an age of cruelty and wrong, human life seemed often to be of slight value or concern. The sorrows of the conquered people, their hurt pride, their fallen fortunes, their galling subjection to a foreign foe, weigh heavily upon our sympathies. Yet the Saxons might have remembered that their own ancestors had put an earlier people to the sword and taken their flocks and herds and driven them from their homes. We must always remember, too, that it was an age of superstition and dense ignorance of many simple truths, an age when might was right, but in spite of this it was an age of spontaneous, rapid growth and change, when the wiser and better citizens of England and Normandy were already standing a long bow-shot in advance of the rank and file, already beginning to apprehend some of our modern fashions of conduct and of thought.
No age has been so just as our own to William the Conqueror's ambitions as sovereign and soldier, or to his high intentions as a statesman; we also can see that there was no reason why the English should not have driven the Normans into the sea at Hastings that October day, except that the Normans were the better soldiers and abler men and had it in them to win the fight. They had progress and civilization with them as a fleet at sea is urged on its way by wind and tide. Through their coming, Englishmen may have lost but England made a great gain.
But the real coming of the Normans into England began in Edward the Confessor's time. That famous and much lamented king was himself far more Norman than English; his mother was a Norman lady and his own youth was spent on that side of the Channel in court and cloister life. Priestcraft was always a great deal dearer to him than statecraft; he was not the English king that England needed, and looked upon his people from the first as barbarians. The aspect of the English court was changed in his day and the men of Kent and Somerset saw themselves set aside as one Norman gentleman after another came over to take high positions in camp and court, and a crowd of interlopers seemed to be having every thing its own way.
There was a growing spirit of jealousy and resentment, and worse than that, there was more and more disintegration of the kingdom. Godwine was no Norman, and Godwine was, practically, ruler of England for many years, but his chief aim seems again and again to have been the aggrandizement of his own family. If that were the best that Anglo-Saxon rule could do in those days for England, the decadence of England begged for something better. The Anglo-Saxons gave their whole hearts to local and selfish interests, and rarely comprehended the wider questions and general concerns of the day. Though King Edward was naturally pleased to surround himself with men who spoke his own Norman tongue, it does not follow that he would have displaced a body of native officials who were entirely to be trusted and quite equal to their tasks. He was too fond of his own ease and indolence and liked his blessed visions of another and an idler world far too well; he would have kept those men in office who gave him least trouble and could grapple to their work. He was bent first upon getting himself safe to heaven and not upon the welfare of that England which had welcomed him to an earthly throne and to noble duties and cares. No doubt he was the prey of those Norman gentlemen who were eager for place and profit. Then, too, as in later days religion was made the cloak and authority for the selfish ends, the preferences and rivalries of men, and poor humanity had not learned to mistrust and despise worldly jealousies and secular battles that are fought with ecclesiastical weapons, or to question boldly those authoritative opinions which reveal far more of the nature of man than of God. King Edward should have been a cloister-man, not a king, but he was for all that, too indulgent a governor not to win a blessed reputation from those of his subjects who liked to follow their lawless ways in peace and not be held to too strict account.
England fell very low and became inert and degraded in the Confessor's time; she ate her great feasts and gathered her treasures and fought a hundred petty fights between the Saxons and the men of the northern fen-lands, but the peasants lived like beasts, and a man might sell his own children for slaves. When Harold, Godwine's son, ruled England for the Confessor in his father's stead, it is true that he kept peace and that England made money and raised great crops and sent much splendid gold work and embroidery to the Continent to be sold, but it has been written of this very time*:It was a prosperity poor in the nobler elements of national activity, and dead to the more vivid influences of spiritual life. Literature, which on the Continent was kindling into a new activity, died down in England into a few psalters and homilies. . . . But good influences were kept at bay as firmly as evil. The church sank into lethargy, monasticism was the one religious power of the day, and Harold, like his father, hated monks. . . . England was all but severed from the Continent.If Harold the Englishman had been left in peace to rule the kingdom after Edward's death, there probably would have been only a group of warring provinces for at least another score of years. The great northern earls of Mercia and Northumberland were no willing allies of the ambitious Earl of Wessex, and England would have been still later in taking her place among the distinguished nations of Europe; she would have been still longer a backward, half-civilized province busy with her own pettiness and unconscious of a wider world outside. It was sterile winter within her borders in Edward's later years. "Those who will look at the fact," says Kingsley, "will see in the holy Confessor's character little but what is pitiable and in his reign little but what is tragical." It was indeed winter, but the fires of spring and the vexing of a sharp but harvest-making plough and the terrible harrowing of war and conquest were soon to come for the sake of future wealth and increase.
At the time of the battle of Hastings, William of Normandy was forty years of age, and was, like his duchy of Normandy, in the full prime of vigor and strength. England had known well enough what it was to be conquered by foreign invasion and to be divided among victorious chieftains, Romans, Saxons, or Danes, yet she had never resented more bitterly the coming of a foreign foe. The strong points of Saxon civilization were local self-government and self-dependence, -- an element of localization being the strongest tendency, -- the weak point was a lack of unity, of common interest and proper centralization and superintendence, and this lack always kept a country full of able-bodied and protesting men from resisting invasion and the power of an usurper. They could bitterly bewail the presence of William and the Normans, but the north waited while the west or the east fought and were beaten, and neither of them thought it necessary to go to the help of the north. There was in truth no England then, only a group of jealous and warring earldoms. Slowly the necessity of England's becoming one kingdom had been evolved, but Edwin of Mercia and Morkere of Northumberland did not hurry southward to help drive the Normans out of England; they really had no England to be proud of and were wary about risking the loss of their own provinces. England was meant to be a single kingdom, and twice within fifty years England had been divided.
To the eye of a statesman, even in those early days, the safety and prosperity of Great Britain lay in an ideality of national government. There were no great principles at stake in the selfish squabbles of the earldoms, although their sudden alliances were often expedient for purposes of defense. Nothing could put an end to the ceaseless instinctive jealousies of Celts and Saxons and Normans except a common pride and love of country, and the day was fast coming when all men within the English borders would proudly own themselves to be Englishmen. There never had been a great king in England who had not grasped the idea of ruling the whole island, and this idea had borne fruit in many wars and much scheming. Alfred and Cnut and Athelstan had been more or less successful in their rule and ambitions, but the moment that a weak man came to sit upon the throne, his under-lords became his enemies and rivals and the national idea was eclipsed. There never was a complete and permanent welding of England begun until the reign of the Conqueror.
William had had practice in the art of conquest and subjection before he came to England. The great province of Maine and his dukedom of Normandy itself had been already conquered. Base-born, and a minor when he first claimed Normandy, friendless, and powerless except as his claims to the duchy furthered the ambitions of others, he was a serious man while yet in his years of boyhood and his great powers came early into subjection to his will. At nineteen he already was known as soldier and statesman and had made himself feared by his elders; his proud and willful Norman subjects hated him because of his genius for promoting law and order, and in later years his English subjects were to resent such fancied tyranny more deeply still because it was the more galling to the self-indulgent lawlessness into which they had sunk. The Normans had developed an instinct toward style, they possessed distinction, they could grasp great ideas, they could be heroic in great things and self-denying in little things in order to gain their ends; the fierce spirit of the ancient Northmen had been put to school and their gifts and natural worth had increased by education as gold gains by coinage. Normandy was a fair land to look upon. To be a Norman was to belong to the best chivalry, learning, and civilization that any country had to show. Yet, hear in contrast what William of Malmesbury sets down in his chronicle of England in those days. He was born of a Norman father who came in William's train and a Saxon mother, and is, no doubt, just in the main in his opinions; at any rate he is counted as the chronicler who is fairest to both sides and writes at a much closer date than some others to the events of the Conquest. The Chronicle says:In process of time the desire after literature and religion had decayed for several years before the coming of the Normans. The clergy contented with a very slight degree of learning, could scarcely stammer out the words of the sacraments. . . . The nobility were given up to luxury and wantonness. The common people, left unprotected, became a prey to the most powerful, who amassed fortunes by either seizing on their property, or selling their persons into foreign countries, although it be an innate quality of this people to be more inclined to reveling than to the accumulation of wealth. Drinking was a universal practice in which they spent whole nights, as well as days. They consumed their whole substance in mean, despicable houses, unlike Normans and French, who in noble and splendid mansions lived with frugality.This is a sad picture of a falling state. England had dwindled since the days of Bæda and his fellow-scholars and saints. She had dwindled since the days of Alfred and Cnut, and who can spend pity over the better and gentler traits of man or nation whose sense of duty and honor, whose true intentions are not high? The test to rank such an one by is the intention and direction of life, -- if that tends downward, the very virtues themselves are turned to weaknesses.
To such an England, which the Confessor had not been able to keep from drifting steadily in the wrong direction, came William of Normandy, whom men now learned to call the Great. The conquered Anglo-Saxons, the still unconquered men of the fen-lands, did not set their wills against him so much [such] as against progress, but now that they were fairly roused out of their apathy toward their country's needs and their fruitless grumbling against the presence of Edward's scornful Norman lords, they were ready to fight every step of England's stormy upward course. It was not until William had been crowned king at Westminster, that he really began the conquest of England. At Senlac the victory was but a single victory and long years of antagonism and insistence were just at the beginning of their flood-tide. The single idea of the Conqueror was effectual government; he appears to have seen with astonishing foresight the possibilities of English national life, its resources of harborage and commerce, of agriculture, of religious and intellectual growth, its needs of national development, and all that was to be gained from an alliance with the centers of civilization and enlightenment.
To the Church in these days belonged education in letters, art, music, architecture, and whatever the Church may take; she has always had the greatest gifts in readiness for those who will accept them. To the Church's great monasteries still fled scholars and artists, who only in cloister life found freedom for their chosen work and release from the obligations of military service. England from her very insularity was full of men specially gifted and needing development, but her soldiery, her men of letters, her social life, were far behind the continental standards. When the Conqueror's army came across the Channel it was led by a banner that the Pope had blessed and the pious Normans at home were praying for the success of a holy war against the heathen English! If it were only that the great preacher and scholar Lanfranc, that gay-hearted and sober-minded Italian gentleman, who was William's chief counselor in Normandy, if it were only that such a man as he were to live within the English borders and work his best for England's bettering, it was something to be thankful for, but England could not see what sunshine was behind the clouds in those dark days of William's first English winter.
The lowland people fared hardest. It was a sorry time in Surrey and Kent. The flower of their soldiery had died at Senlac, and as the Conqueror went through the weeping towns, and claimed the lands of the dead and living, giving here and there a piece of land to a widow and her children out of their own broad estates, to keep them from starving, he must have heard many a muttered curse and seen many a black look. These were the fortunes of war; he was no sterner than many another conqueror; he was more just and generous than others had been in those early days, when war brought a man the highest glory that could be won, and might was right everywhere the spearmen went. There were those of the English who were unconquerable because they were men of the same blood as the Normans' own, from the Denmark dunes and the Norway fiords. There was a spirit also in men, born upon English soil, men who had a noble heritage and whose bravery could not be crushed, whether they were dark-haired men of Northumberland and the Eastern fens, or fair-haired lowlanders of Sussex. In these last the love of home, the love of the soil, so instinctive in the Saxon heart, were to be beaten down like flowers in the road that every foot steps on and every wheel goes over; but like these they only pushed their roots deeper and made the more vigorous growth. It was necessary for the growth and permanence of the best in Saxon life and even its brave spirit of freedom, that England's life as a nation should be made stable.
*Freeman's "Norman Conquest."
In picturing the state of England after the Conquest it is impossible not to let it be dominated constantly by the great figure of William of Normandy, which stands like a rock in a stormy sea. To quote the eloquent and just words of Freeman, "As far as mortal man can guide the course of things when he is gone, the course of our national history since William's day has been the result of William's character and of William's acts. Well may we restore to him the surname* that men gave him in his own day. He may worthily take his place as William the Great alongside of Alexander, Constantine, and Charles. They may have wrought in some sort a greater work because they had a wider stage to work it on. But no man ever wrought a greater and more abiding work on the stage that fortune gave him than he qui dux Normannis, qui Cæsar praefuit Anglis.*
"Stranger and conqueror, his deeds won him a right to a place on the roll of English statesmen, and no man that came after him has won a right to a higher place."
The condition of the country was so directly at its king's disposal, and was so changed in its ordering, so subjected to his will and decisions, that after the first few weeks of the Conqueror's presence we have to consider him almost altogether as governor and the people of England as his subjects under government. There was continual opposition between the Normans and the English, and it is necessary to make constant distinction between what William himself did and ordered and what was done under cover of his name by his underlings and those self-seeking officers in petty and great places who could not be held to strict account. For the king took land or seized money, we may often read, the king's rapacious ministers of church and state. William was defeated in some of his best plans by the covetousness and rapacity* of his own followers, and their determination to enrich themselves at the expense of a conquered territory. Their leader was avaricious too, but he was a king and had pride in his kingship and in the outcome of his laws. Many of his followers were untrustworthy, for the best of the Normans, those who were men of position and property at home, naturally would stay there and mind their own responsibilities, but England was the prey of a great horde of Norman adventurers, and worse still, of army hirelings who had less conscience even than they. Taxation for public expenses, however, was as deeply resented as private thievery. No nation has ever been better pleased than England to have its kings keep kingly state or to have them generous toward their subjects in the matter of pensions and bounties, yet taxation for public needs is looked upon with grief and dismay, and it must be confessed that the complaints of the English of that early age have a curiously modern tone.
We do not need to be told that there were plunderers and jobbers in high positions then, since we know only too well that the nineteenth century is often mindful of such thefts. It must be the people's money that is flung to the people in purses of silver and gold, or in parks and public buildings, but a tax seems an injustice. To be a king was to be strong enough to take what one chose, to have a right to do what one pleased; the common people existed for the satisfaction and service of those in high places, but seldom had the poor man fared harder or been more degraded than William of Normandy found him at his coming into England. Yet after doing so much in the early part of his reign to advance prosperity the great king seems in his latest years to have done much to hinder it, as if he had lived out his years of true life and growth and then fell back spent and disheartened into the common schemes of self-aggrandizement and sordid luxury and avarice and cruelty at England's expense.
In these earlier years which concern us now, his ambitions and powers were at their highest; while his adviser and friend, Lanfranc the great prelate, and Matilda of Flanders, the wise, large-hearted woman who was England's Queen, both stood by his side. Their dignity and ability upheld and ministered to his own, and through their influence, no doubt, some of the great reforms of the reign were set on foot.
One of the most interesting points in the study of this age is the change and expansion of the English language, wrought by the presence of the Normans. At first there was constant injustice and misapprehension because the great body of the conquered and their conquerors could not understand one another's speech. The farmer spoke his native tongue, that wonderfully expressive mingling of Celtic, Roman, and Danish words with the Teutonic inheritance which we call Anglo-Saxon; the courtier spoke Norman-French, just as French is the polite language in Russia to-day. Then, gradually, the number increased of those who were able to speak both tongues, and as time went on, the simple, straightforward English speech held its own as the common speech of England, but had become immensely enriched by the addition of many French words. These relate themselves usually to the general advance in English life and thought, but for a long time the distance between the Normans and English was widened and embittered by constant misunderstandings that arose from the presence of two spoken languages in the already vexed and troubled country. King William never tried to discourage the speaking of English and certainly never attempted to put French in its place in legal or state documents. Latin always had been used more or less in the more important records and it seemed now slowly to take the place of English though the great charters and proclamations of this time are English, and Henry Beauclerc, born on English soil, was taught English by the king's command.
The chief examples of the Conqueror's so-called malicious tyranny that come first to mind are these three: the ringing of the curfew bell,* the making of deer forests, the driving of the peasantry out of the rural districts to the neighborhood of the English towns. We might add to these three, the confiscation of English lands by Norman usurpers, but that was the fortune of war; England was a conquered country, and occupation by the conquerors her necessary fate.
William held to the assertion that England was his rightful inheritance from the Confessor, and that he had been driven against his will to force of arms, and he governed England from that point of view. If there were revolts they were by no means unwelcome, -- by that means English lands came into Norman hands the faster, but in the meantime, William kept the letter of Edward's laws as he had promised at his coronation; giving them sometimes unexpected, special interpretation, although he grounded and settled them for all time. The time-honored laws of England might have faded out, to judge by the tendency of affairs before his coming, if it had not been for his strong will and stronger sword.
We might use the figure here of the physician and his patient to represent a certain aspect of the Conqueror and his island kingdom. "The main point," says Dr. Chambers, "for the physician's consideration in disease is the deficiency of vital action, and that all successful medical treatment is a renewal of that vital action." Every one of these early reforms or seemingly harsh laws was really for the well-being of the lower classes of England, "in the serf's" interest, and, most of all, in the interest of the defenseless. It startles us to find an anticipation of modern philanthropy* in William's early legislation, a desire to bring the lowest level of humanity under law and to put it on the road to civilization.
When we learn from William of Malmesbury that eating and drinking were carried to a point of shocking greediness and made the chief delight of a great part of the population, that feasts began as early as possible in the day and lasted late, that lawlessness and robbery were the rule by night, we no longer can wonder that the famous curfew bell was turned to as a wise police regulation. The king simply reflected upon a similar state of things in Normandy in his early days, where he had brought about necessary law and order by the same determination that every household fire and light should be put out at eight o'clock in winter and sunset in summer and every man must be at home under grave penalties. He had seen the excellent effect of this ringing of the curfew bell, he did not make it out of hand to shame and oppress his new subjects, but for their needed safety and the country's good. But to the freedom-loving Saxon heart, England seemed to be turned by reason of it into a great prison.
Then it was harder still to bear a command that those who lived in the greenwood, in poor hovels of the fens, in outlying districts distant from any neighbors, should go to live in the towns. The folk-land which had held a scattered population was claimed by the king and call Terra Regis*; the peasants' hovels were swept away, and the small holdings of farmers, even larger properties, all were laid waste to make the king new hunting-grounds. Edward the Confessor was a famous huntsman, it was one if his few manly traits, and he had left sixty-eight royal forests behind him, which nobody seems to have grudged, but the forests that William took were grudged most bitterly. The confiscation of the Hampshire lands was the last stroke that could be borne, and they were promptly dowered with a curse by those who so unwillingly gave them up. The New Forest was dangerous ground for the household of the Conqueror; there was a long-lived and well-founded superstition* that it was a fatal place for men of the Conqueror's time to take their pleasure in.
We can understand now that great tracts of these English fens and forests were far from being fit for human habitations, and that wide stretches of remote parts of the inland country were only lived in by people who were hardly better than wild animals. The liberty upon which William infringed was often the liberty of the lawless and untamed who in their scattered dens came within no opportunities* of uplifting or enlightenment. They certainly needed to be brought into closer relationship with decent society; there were reasons enough why some of the folk-land should be given up to the hares and deer. "William loved the high deer as if he were their father," says the old Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but we know besides that he was not unmindful of his people. We find him trying to learn English and succeeding in so far that he could understand what was said. We are told that he was indulgent to those of his own household, "mild to the good men that loved God, but stark* to those who withstand His will." A man of great austerity and power of self-control, he always had respect for law and religion even though he could sometimes turn them to suit his own ends. Even the lawless William Rufus, who feared neither God nor man, revered his father, the great king, and respected his memory.
As one reads the story of the Conqueror's great labors and detailed plans of government it is impossible to believe that he was looking upon England merely as so much territory to be added to his duchy of Normandy. We forget as we read this page of English history that William ruled Normandy too and was carrying on at the same time his great Norman government. It seems as if he had entirely recognized the noble possibilities, indeed the great future, of England, and was setting himself with devoted industry and patience to make it orderly and to give it its proper place among those nations of Europe which it had lagged behind. Not even the strong hand and busy brain of William of Normandy could make England other than England, but his natural conservatism,* his respect for the English laws, and his wonderful understanding of the national lines of growth are indeed surprising. He was too great a statesman not to recognize that his opportunity lay in developing England, not transforming her. He seemed to his indignant and unwilling subjects only a plunderer and oppressor, but England always fared hardest when he was out of it; he was a check upon smaller oppressors, and there were always men who were able to recognize that it was better to have a sovereign like theirs, able to lead and able to discern, than to have sectional jealousies tear England asunder for the glory of petty chiefs.
Although the interlopers* from across the Channel had pulled down English houses they built England's great cathedrals* and the people who flocked to the towns came under law and built new houses and lived in them more like Christians. The Church became significant and enlarged her dominion. So much was asked of the people that they developed new energy in every direction, but in Edward's time a bishop held his great revenues and might live where he chose; under William a bishop swore fealty to the king like other men and must live in the chief city of his own diocese. This meant that the least of the parishes must be better taught and served. There was oppression and cruelty enough in those days, beggary and destitution, and all the sorrows of a conquered people. Many of the Englishmen who were needed at home were forced to become outlaws and exiles, they could not yield, they would not serve nor do homage to the Norman King. There is no more touching page in literature than the scene in Kingsley's story of "Hereward the Wake where the brave young Hereward comes home after long absence and steals into the old manor-house where his mother sits, a widow and childless, plundered and bereft, and then lifts her bent and hooded head to see his face which she had thought never to see again. The soil of England had to be forced into loyalty acre by acre. At last the officers of state and church were Normans almost to a man. They had taken the places of Englishmen not always by force or the King's favor, but sometimes by skill and the right of fitness. Not all those whose names we find, had come over with William but some were men and sons of men who had settled themselves in England years before in the Confessor's time. They could read and keep accounts, they knew the ways of the world, they lived frugally and not greedily, and knowledge always has the advantage of ignorance. England had gone down in the days of her material prosperity and now the world was to see what adversity could do for her. In many respects the Anglo-Saxon race possesses great qualities; stability, perseverance, self-government, industry, are Saxon traits. But the Normans could add to these, imagination and a genius for great enterprises, ideality and a love of fitness and elegance in the arts and in social life. "Without them England would have been mechanical, not artistic; brave, not chivalrous; the home of learning, not of thought."
*The Latin prefix sur is, in English, over, and gives to this word the meaning of a name in addition to, or over and above, the Christian name; the family name. Originally surnames came from the occupation, the home, or some event relating to the person.
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*The name for beasts of prey in Latin is rapax; the verb meaning to seize, to carry off, in the same language is rapere. The derived English word rapacity, denotes the quality which disposes to plunder, to seize for one's self, greediness of gain.
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*To cover (extinguish) the fire is expressed in French by the words couvre feu, which were soon modified into the English curfew.
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*Man in the Greek language was called anthropos; friend, philos. The latter word as an adjective means beloved, dear. Hence the Anglisized word, philanthropy, the love of mankind, readiness to do good to all men.
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*Latin for land of the king.
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*When one is astonished or amazed over anything the natural tendency is to stand perfectly still; and this is just what superstition means; Latin stare, to stand, to stand still; super, over. A standing still over something wonderful; an excessive reverence or fear for something mysterious.
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*The literal meaning of the word is, at or before the port (Latin ob and portus). Lying in port a ship's crew has release from many ordinary duties and has comparative leisure. Hence the name is applied to a suitable occasion, a fit time.
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*Opposition to change. Latin servare to guard, con against.
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*The Dutch name for a coaster, a smuggling vessel ("one that runs in and out along the coast") is enterlooper, a word compounded of the French entre, between and the Dutch looper a runner, a leaper. Interlopers, those who thrust themselves where they have no claim or right.
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*The relation between a cathedral and a chair is not evident at first sight. The Latin word for chair is cathedra, the Greek kathedra. The word chair is often used to designate a seat of authority, as a bishop's chair, the chair of a judge. So cathedra meant the seat or throne of a bishop. Hence cathedral, a church containing a bishop's chair.
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*Both Bulwer's story of "Harold" and Kingsley's "Hereward" give most vivid pictures of this time, the one of the time immediately before William's coming and the other of his reign itself. -- S. O. J.
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The houses of the better class of Englishmen of that day were not imposing structures; from the chronicles we can picture to ourselves the groups of low buildings, usually of wood, where one or two rooms had been added year by year, according to necessity. In good weather people lived in the open air far more than in our own day; there was not a complete system of house existence as we know it now. Then to be under a roof was for some persons an incident*; now it is as exceptional for certain luxurious members of society to go out-of-doors. The northern fashion of living in halls has lately been made to live again in delightful verse by Mr. William Morris in his "House of The Wolfings"; we can see in imagination the huge room where the master of the household had his high seat upon the north side while his people had their places on either hand about the walls, their beds and benches and footstools, with their armor hanging on the wall above. A great fire blazed on the pavement in the middle of the floor and its smoke went out at the openings in the high, carved roof. Hospitality was chief among the virtues and toward the north of England especially there was still something of the old Norse way of living; in fact the great halls or assembling places of old and new English houses are the direct descendants of the ancient common rooms. Little by little in the old days, according to the needs of civilization, rooms were added for store-houses and for workshops and guest-chambers, and at last for those who wished to be alone, until the great halls and their dependencies looked like villages. There was sure to be a strong room for the safe keeping of prisoners among the rest, but we do not get an idea of stateliness and dignity, such as seems to have belonged to the Scandinavian folk-houses.
In every-day life there appears to have been almost unnecessary discomfort; all the rooms must have been cold and dark and smoky, and the servants, with those strangers and wayfarers who had no claim to distinction, slept like dogs in the lower rooms on straw or on the rushes strewn by way of carpet. The high-life in hall, the fashions at table, the rudeness of dress, and lack of certain minor morals would strike us strangely if they could be reproduced. It is not too much to say that there are people now, living as all except the most comfortable of our ancestors lived and keeping up many of their fashions, in England and in our own city streets, but we think that the Boards of Health cannot keep too close an oversight, nor the messengers of charity work too eagerly for their uplifting and possible amelioration! In Edward the Confessor's time a better mode of life began to reach the apprehension of the more refined, and when it is claimed by the chronicler that the English consumed their substance in mean and despicable houses while the French and Normans lived with frugality in noble and splendid mansions, we understand that great gains had been already made, and that England, to use a homely phrase, had already begun to "live like other people." There is no more justice, after all, in applying our standards to the manner of life, either English or Norman, of those days than in making our modern philanthropy and sympathy for suffering the standards for that age of warfare and cruelty.
England had shared already in the early rise of Romanesque* architecture, and though many of her churches were wooden and not remarkable in any way, there were many built of stone with fine characteristic arches, and even some individuality of ornamentation. There is an unmistakable likeness between these Saxon churches and those of early Italian architecture, and the priests and pilgrims of Durham and Peterborough and Canterbury had already shared in the continental rage for church building. Some of the beautiful, simple towers of pre-Norman times are standing yet; many of the ancient country churches date back in part to the years before the Conquest, in fact, after the great Norman cathedrals were rearing their walls, in the years that followed the Conquest, towers and churches were still built after the old designs.
If England had nothing to show as the result of the Norman Conquest save her cathedrals, one would be tempted to say that she was well repaid for all her hardships. Here on English ground the Norman architects and those English architects who were quick to learn from them, built the most wonderful and beautiful stately roofs and towers and chiseled them into rich tracery as years went by; a noble heritage from church and state, for centuries yet to come, but in the days of their building a means of education and true enlightenment in arts and crafts. So many kinds of knowledge and intelligence must be brought to bear on architecture. Ruskin has said that a great architect must be both painter and sculptor, and it is a marvel to think of the thousands of men besides the planner, who worked in wood and stone and glass and metal to finish the great buildings, learning from their masters and teaching in their turn. We cannot help feeling a great reverence for the church builders of England and for that superstitious faith which wrought so devoutly in what it believed to be the cause of truth and righteousness. We should "regard intolerant religion merely as a mark of imperfect development; its cause the ignorance and timidity of man; its cure, increase of knowledge and safer abundance."*
We have the picture before us of a conservative, self-indulgent, easily prejudiced people; essentially aristocratic in the sense that they paid great court to their leaders and heads of families and took great pride in their wealth and possessions. The true meaning of aristocracy* is easily lost, and comes to signify not the rule of the best but the rule of those who have the most. Such a people as this, who valued their comforts of life more than their means of growth and development, were forced to submit to the presence of another sort of men, scornful, ambitious, greedy also of gain and power, but full of radical and unsettling ideas. They too wished to be great land-holders, and at the Saxons' expense; they meant also to be great builders and laughed much of the primitive architecture to scorn. They ridiculed the huge feasts and the drunkenness and made themselves unwelcome at both fireside and council of state. Their very quickness and ability, their instinct toward manners and style, were aggravating to the Saxon sluggishness and that already well-worn theory of letting well enough alone -- a poor theory to frame character by. It is like reading the story of a self-involved, comfortable household which suddenly has a new inmate thrust upon its affections, a person who is pretentious and bustling, who insists upon new and more exact ways of doing things and laughs at the antiquated bourgeois fashions and speech; nay, more! who uproots the tenderest associations and makes light of the household sentiment for the past. All this England had to bear from the Normans, but we may also believe with a glow at our hearts, that there were some men and women among the English who were ready to welcome the intruders, who had bewailed the lack of learning in those ancient cloisters where the venerated Bæda and his fellow scholars studied and taught; men and women who were ashamed of England's great crops and crimson and gold embroidered stuffs of the loom and needle, and ashamed of her great feasts since Wisdom went so poorly clad and was housed in a hovel. One likes to think that there were some who held to higher aims, who were glad to have the Normans come, if only they would rouse a lazy England with whip and spur. England must no longer be great in little things and eminent for her commonplaceness; now she must learn from Lanfranc of Pavia the lessons that Italy could teach, and from Norman William a northern power of doing the things that were to be done.
When Duke William heard the news of Earl Harold's being crowned king of the English, he left the chase and went home to his castle hall in Rouen, and his retainers followed in silence, watching with curious eyes his excitement and restlessness. Nobody dared to ask what misfortune had befallen him. He leaned his head against a stone pillar and covered his face with his cloak. "Long before in the old Norse halls where the Vikings lived together, if a man were sick or sorry or wished for any reason to be undisturbed he sat on his own bench in hall and covered his head with his cloak; there was no room in which he could be alone, and after this old custom William's court in a later day left him to his thought." I repeat this passage from my "Story of the Normans," because the incident always strikes me as being full of significance. Here was an ancient custom of the earliest Saga times still instinctive in William the Conqueror; the plain country woman of our own day who throws her apron over her head as she sits silent among her people, makes it a signal of deep disturbance of mind and claims by it a sort of seclusion far more striking than if she went away by herself. There seems to be evidence of a profound self-consciousness and determined thought which the loud outcries and excitement of shallower minds never show; it is the trait of a different nature; the germ of great projects and achievements is in that power of withdrawal from one's surroundings, and in demanding respect for such withdrawal. "William was a man of mickle thought and deep speech," says the chronicle. England has been the mother country of such men in the years that she has been coming to her greatness and power, it is her northern blood still stirring in her veins.
One of the conqueror's clearest intentions was to bring England under strict government. She already had her parliament, her Witanagemot, or meeting of wise men, who considered the country's needs and petitions, and "with the king sat in Winchester at Easter and in Westminster at Pentecost, and in Gloucester at Christmas-tide." The places of the English were taken by Normans; it appeared as if every thing English were to be swept away; but the real effect of these first years after the Conquest was to turn both foreigners and natives into Englishmen.
The horror that fell upon English hearts at the news of William's great survey of England, and its record, which the world knows as Domesday Book, strikes a student to-day with mingled pity and amusement. William certainly needed to know the military strength of the country, as the chief of its armies; as a prudent governor he must have records of the population and the resources of the landholders. His deputies went over England "to know how this land was set and of what men," and made careful survey of every man's land, setting down who had been the former owner under Edward, establishing titles, and hearing complaints. The exasperated people supposed themselves insulted and outraged, as if the great census were nothing more than a method for making taxation easier and more rewarding to the king. It was to them a heart-rending forerunner of thievery and extortion, but to us it marks a step upward in the condition of England and English government. In 1086 when, after the great survey was finished, William gathered his subjects out of the whole country to the plain of Salisbury and every landholder and man of influence swore fealty to him, it was a great day for England. In the fact that every man held his lands direct from the king and that his duty to the king over-ruled his duty to any under lord lay a sure promise of well-being and safety. On that day the unity of England's national power was welded, the common people had become of consequence, they had a clear way opened before them to better things. The strong hand that since the bloody fight at Senlac had often seemed only to crush and to check, had in reality removed many hindrances. The horrible slave trade of Bristol was stopped, there were no longer any thralls who were sold with the land, or even bound in feudal fashion to serve the selfish ends of their masters. There was a certain sense in which William was not a man of blood, he dared in that early time to forbid capital punishment, though in the later reigns of his successors, not long before our time, a man might be hanged for sheep stealing. The stories of war are always sorry reading, and those of the Conqueror's time are no exception with their truly Oriental recklessness of human life. If a man were a danger and terror to the community, if he were vile and despicable, he was put out of mischief by having his eyes torn out, or his thievish hands cut off, and was turned out into the world to wander at the world's mercy, but in William's reign the taking of life in cold blood as punishment for crime was forbidden.
In many ways the people of England learned slowly that they had become responsible to a stable government; they were impelled to steady thrift in order to meet steady demands for national purposes. No advance can be made toward national or personal breadth of view, largeness of character, true prosperity of any sort, without pain and stress; those must lose something who would win more, and must put down a small thing that is in hand if they would take up a larger. All the poverty and suffering of England in those dark days was the price of great advance and of gaining a steadfast and permanent place among the nations of the earth. What William with increasing avarice wrung from the country for his own satisfaction must be forgiven him, both his Great Hoard at Winchester and all his grasping ways. It is well to remember that his score of years in England was no holiday. Only those who are rulers know the unreckoned restraints and lack of personal liberty to which they are made subject. No one citizen is the servant of his king to the degree in which the king is the servant of the citizen.
So the churls of England, and the very thralls, their bondmen, came to own themselves Englishmen, instead of the harassed and unrewarded vassals of a petty over lord, and had a king who was a king indeed. They had taken oath to the crown, and the crown would remain when he who wore it that day at Salisbury had long been dust in a Norman crypt or scattered to the Norman winds. The future of the English nation was shaped for it in William's reign; if he had lived long enough to begin in Ireland what he had begun in England, the state of that unhappy country would have been far better. We can see in her history what England might have been save for William the Conqueror.
There is a great proportion of names of Norman descent in every list of English colonists and adventurers by land and sea. They came to America, they went to Australia, they were among the New Englanders who hurried first to California in 1849; they make the positive side of society, the reformers, the seekers for new truths, they are still the leaders of those who speak the English tongue. The possibility of apathy and short-sightedness, and of relapse into too comfortable and casual habits of life always lurks in the national character; there have always been times when England has grown dull and blindly prudent -- and then comes the cry for the old Norman pride, bright, fierce, enthusiastic, ready to listen to the voices and responsive to the call of visions.
Those who instinctively take the Anglo-Saxon side in discussing the movements of this great epoch would have students of history believe that it is throughout, a noble Saxon development, and that William and his followers came under its influence to their great enlightenment and advantage. This is true, but it is not the whole truth; Saxon England alone never would have reached great results of national life and character. It was to having her share of that rekindling of light in the far North that England's real advance was due, that spark of quickening fire and new beginning of intellectual force in the countries of the Saga heroes and the Saga writers. One thinks of it with the mysterious,* white flickering of the Aurora Borealis*; one remembers with awe the fury and pride and masterful personality of those rough Vikings who made themselves a new home in the pleasant land of Normandy, and drew to themselves whatever of good they found, "giving," as has been said, "a soul to the body of letters and art which awaited them"; giving to the character of their adopted language something which has made it the language of polite society for nearly a thousand years; giving to England the great gift of their traits as governors, their high courage, their mastery of the duties of soldiers and scholars and builders. For themselves their fault of treachery was rebuked by Saxon honesty, and their shallow quickness by Saxon painstaking, their fickleness by Saxon loyalty and steadfastness.
Still, as we regard the dark and stormy years of the English Conquest, the figure of Norman William grows again distinct, and a mournful figure it was in the latest months of his great and significant reign. He had set an example, rare enough in that licentious age, of proverbially pure and sober life, he had uncommon virtues for his day and generation. People called him extortionate, people called him cruel, his own conscience was sharp within him as he lay on his death bed. But when all is said that can be said of any unrighteous advantage that he took as victor with his spoils, of harshness incident to conquest and antagonism in that cruel, almost merciless age, we must own that he was truly the benefactor of the country over which he came to rule. We must judge that sovereignty of England at its best, not in its decadence when he grew weak and spent and old. There were temporary aspects of his later reign that were anything but admirable, but the general trend of his statesmanship was that of a master and a true king. His own conception of the powers of a united England and his final success in inspiring his subjects with this conception, made the re-created nation, after the twenty-one years of his reign, like a young man who has reached his majority and who steps forward equal to many hardships and to the control and maintenance* of his own life and affairs. The England that William the Norman organized out of such opposed, reluctant* materials has held its own against the world from the day he died his sorrowful death in Rouen until now.
*A falling upon, Latin cadere, to fall, in, upon. The word is used in two ways which Webster distinguishes as follows: "That which usually falls out or takes place," and "That which happens aside from the main design."
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*Like the Roman. The word is Englished from the Italian romanesco, where the suffix is from the Latin iscos, Greek iskos, which corresponds to the English ish.
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*Greek aristos, best, kratein, to rule, whence the compound aristokratia, the rule of the best born nobles.
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*Tracing backward the history of the noun from which this adjective is derived, it is found used first (probably) in English, in Wiclif's translation of the Bible (Rom. xvi. 25), where it is translated from the Latin mysterium, which in its turn was derived from the same word in the Greek passage, musterion. The Greeks successively developed the word from mustos, one who is initiated, muein, to initiate into the mysterious; mu, a slight sound with closed lips. So the origin of the word is found in the imitation of closing the lips.
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*[Au-ro'ra bo-re-al'is] The Latin expression for Northern Lights; Aurora, from the Greek eos, meaning dawn; Borealis an adjective from Boreas, the name of the north wind.
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*The English borrowed the word from the French who compounded the verb maintenir from their words for hand, main, and to hold, tenir. The French borrowed these two words from the Latin tongue where they appear as manus and tenere.
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*A wrestling, a struggle, the Romans called lucta, and the corresponding verb was luctari. Prefixing re they had reluctari, to struggle against.
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This essay appeared in three parts in The Chautauquan (12:438-442, 574-578, 707-711), Meadville, Pa., January, February, and March, 1891. As it re-presents material contained mainly in the final two chapters of The Story of the Normans (1887), a reader may wonder why Jewett published this essay. Though this has not been established with direct evidence, it appears likely that she was commissioned to provide this piece in three installments as part of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle course for 1890-1891 on British History and Literature. The Editor's Outlook in Volume 11, pp. 344-5, introduces and describes the course. This course was listed during 1890, with Jewett's essay as among the reading list items that would appear in The Chautauquan during the first three months of 1891 (see v. 11, p. 352). In addition to the readings from the magazine, according to the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Book List 1878-2013, the textbooks for the course included:
Beers, Henry A. .From Chaucer to Tennyson
Hill, Adams Sherman. Our English
Hurst, John F. Short History of the Church in the United States
Joy, James Richard. An Outline History of England
Wilkinson, William Cleaver. Classic French Course in English
Winchell, Alexander Walks and Talks in the Geological Field; The Chautauquan.
That just two of the "author's" notes are followed by "S. O. J." suggests that these two were Jewett's own notes and that the others may have been added by The Chautauquan as an aspect of the course. The remaining notes focus on vocabulary and etymology; attention to the English language appears to have been a course goal, as indicated by the reading of A. S. Hill's Our English.
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… but what is tragical: from Charles Kingsley's Works, Volume 3 (1883), Hereward, The Last of the English, p. 6. Originally published as Hereward the Wake (1865). The passage in which Hereward returns to his mother, to which Jewett refers, is in Chapter 19, pp. 184-5.
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William of Malmesbury … lived with frugality: See The Library of Original Sources: Volume IV (Early Mediaeval Age) 2004, compiled by Oliver J. Thatcher, for William of Malmsbury's "Saxons and Normans." This quotation appears on p. 387.Freeman's "Norman Conquest": See Jewett's Sources for details about Freeman. The quotation for Jewett's note is from v. 1 (1873), p. 491.
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Bæda: See Wikipedia for a sketch of the life and works of Saint Bede (672/673 – 735).
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"qui dux Normannis … has won a right to a higher place": These quotations appear in Freeman's William the Conqueror (1888), pp. 199-200. For the Latin, see also Freeman, The Norman Conquest, v. 4, p. 99. See Jewett's Sources
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Dr. Chambers: See, The Renewal of Life (4th edition, 1866), by Thomas King Chambers, p. v.
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loved the high deer as if he were their father: This quotation appears in multiple sources to which Jewett had access. Thorpe's translation varies slightly, p. 190. See Jewett's Sources.
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"home of learning, not of thought": Arthur Henry Johnson, The Normans in Europe, p. 166. See Jewett's Sources.
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William Morris …. "House of the Wolfings": William Morris (1834-1896). A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark appeared in 1889
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with the king sat in Winchester at Easter: While these facts are partly confirmed in numerous sources, the exact quotation has not been located. See for example: The Bishops of Winchester in the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Periods (1877) by Thomas Hervey, p. 213.
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Oriental recklessness of human life: Like the terms "oriental despotism" and "oriental cruelty," this term implies that Asians are, by nature, savages, when compared to Europeans. Whether Jewett intended this cliche to carry such a meaning is open to debate.
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churls... thralls ... bondmen: Churls are medieval English peasants. Thralls, bondmen, are owned, like slaves.
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1849: Referring to the California gold rush.
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"a soul to the body of letters and art which awaited them": This quotation has not been located. Assistance is welcome.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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